Toronto Raptors Fanapalooza is upon us. Well, that's what it's been called all these years...
That's how the Toronto Raptors/Huskies celebrate their last home game of the regular season. Today, I'm celebrating one fan in particular. Her name is Monique Lawrence.
Monique is one of the MOST INSPIRING PEOPLE I've ever met. Harvey's says their hamburger is a beautiful thing? No. You want to know what's really a beautiful thing? Monique's unwavering love for her Raptors.
I met Mo in April of last year for an article I was writing about how her super fandom led to season tickets from MLSE (!!!). That's a really big deal.
Her and her family graciously invited me to her home where I got to see the most swagged out room for a Raptors' fan. She gave me the rundown of how her love for her team began to what her day is like on game days. When you read the article or listen to the podcast you'll see that she takes game day very seriously.
So I wrote a loooong article about her, which is one of my pride and joy's to this day. Special thanks goes to Michael Visenberg, Sherman Hamilton, Paul Jones, Nick Nurse, Nneka David and the ACC staff for their interviews and help to connect the dots.
I learned about how powerful her passion is and how she ignites the most positive flame in anyone she meets. You should hear what happened when she met her favourite Raptor of all time Morris Peterson. It's the same feeling you get when you watch a puppy or kitten video. Thank you to Duane Watson for allowing me to use the clip in my podcast.
Her social media accounts are flooded with fans visiting her at games and with special moments where she hangs out with team members, personnel and their families. No one gets to meet their families. That's just how special Monique is!
Here is where I stand after witnessing Monique's amazing gift. I believe that Mo should be a fan ambassador for the Toronto Raptors. Here's why:
1. She connects with Raptors fans all over North America. Seriously, Mo Fever is spreading! People have been coming out of the woodwork to visit her during games. One fan is even taking her to a Raptors 905 playoff game this weekend.
2. She knows everything about the team. And she's not afraid to tell it like it is on social media (swearing included).
3. The Raptors community is so diverse that she would be the perfect candidate as a Special Needs Fan Ambassador through her experiences of navigating the Air Canada Centre.
4. She's tried her hand at blogging and sports writing and she has a growing brand for herself.
5. She has NOTHING BUT LOVE for the team, its front office and even the Raptors media.
Mo is more than qualified.
Please take a moment to read her story below, or listen to the Finally! podcast episode on Mo by clicking the link or searching for it on your podcast app or iTunes. And give her a follow @moraptorsfan
Monique Lawrence’s room is all one needs to see to figure out how much she loves and supports the Toronto Raptors.
Anyone who enters her room is greeted by action shots of Kyle Lowry, Demar DeRozan and Cory Joseph. Looking ahead there’s a television that is almost exclusively used for NBA TV Canada content and Raptors games. Then there’s a night table with smaller collectibles like mini basketballs, ticket stubs and water bottles accompanied by Toronto’s plush NBA All-Stars guarding the collection like they’re guarding the back court. The further you walk in, the more you understand how dedicated Lawrence is to her Raptors.
She goes to bed every night covered with a fluffy black Raptors blanket and lies under her display of giveaway shirts that will never leave the safety of the right wall. And when the sun rises in the morning, the rays shine through the giant crimson Raptors flag that hangs over her window. In Monique Lawrence’s room the sun rises and sets in the North.
“What’s a typical game day like for you?” I asked.
With her eyes glowing and a hint of impatience in her voice for the home game against the Boston Celtics that night, she said, “I count down the hours.”
Twenty-eight-year-old Monique Lawrence is a diehard Raptors fan. She said it’s been that way since she said she could crawl to the television. “It all started from my brother,” Lawrence recalls. “That’s when I knew, and I always watched them as a kid and put in the effort.”
Lawrence has cerebral palsy. But despite her disability she is a genuine inspiration to nearly anyone she meets. “I want people to understand that my disability won’t stop me,” Lawrence said. That outlook on life has touched many of the people who support the team and who work for the Raptors, whether it be media, coaches, front office personnel or players and their families. She is a fan that has fans, similar to Super Fan Nav Bhatia. But it’s possible that she may have more fans.
Nnika David, 28, Lawrence’s step-sister, said she’s astonishment at how well known her sister is. “The amount of people that know her is crazy!” David said. “A lot of people follow her on social media, then they come to visit and take pictures. She’s like a celebrity!” When Lawrence isn’t not thinking about the countdown to game time, she spends part of her day answering messages from other Raptors fans making sure they can visit her at a game. Lucky for them there has been many chances to visit Lawrence because she was generously given a pair of season tickets by the Toronto Raptors.
Lawrence said she was determined to become a season ticket holder for her beloved Raptors. On Oct. 15, 2015 she set up an online GoFundMe campaign called “R aptors s eason ti cket” to raise $5,000 for all 41 home games.
“No one told me to do it I did it with my own mind,” Lawrence explained with pride. In six months her campaign spread through Facebook and raised $530 thanks to 11 donations.
Michael Visenberg, contributing writer for NBADraft.net, met Lawrence briefly at a Raptors home game last season. The current Portland, Oregon resident said Lawrence had such an impact on him that he felt he had to donate to her cause. The writer contributed $100 and he said it was some of the best money he’s ever spent.
“I love every level of basketball and growing up with Canadian basketball I felt there weren’t enough of us,” Visenberg said. “But when I met her, I could tell right away that her passion was through the roof.”
The pair stayed connected through Facebook and as Visenberg got better acquainted with Lawrence he said he grew more and more impressed with her passion and knowledge of the team and the game.
“It seemed like she was friends with lots of basketball media and people that I know so I was flattered that she friended me,” Visenberg recalled. “She invited me to join a Facebook group called ‘Real Toronto Raps Fans’ and she’s a legend in that group.”
Day after day Lawrence put in the work to reach her goal. Numerous times throughout the day she would sandwich Facebook posts of her GoFundMe page link between positive preseason messages for the Raptors. According to her online campaign her page was shared 238 times at the time of this writing.
But while on her quest for season tickets she selflessly helped fulfill another fan’s dream. Lawrence won four tickets from basketball blog Hoops Lounge to see the Raptors play the Washington Wizards in Montreal on Oct. 23. Sadly she could not attend and instead she paid it forward by giving the tickets to a young fan so that he could go to his first Raptors game with his father. There is no way of knowing, but that act of kindness may have been the spark for what was to come in the near future as the Raptors’ regular season neared.
DREAM COME TRUE
A day before the home opener on Oct. 28 against the Indiana Pacers, Lawrence received a package from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
“My mom called to me and said ‘there’s mail from MLSE for Monique Lawrence!’ and then she started crying,” Lawrence recalled as she gazed up at one of her most treasured pieces of memorabilia- a team signed card from the Raptors that came in the same package as a hat and season tickets.
“I cried when I opened the package and saw that what I was working for was in my hands,” Lawrence said with glee. “I am so grateful for the Raptors to do that for me.”
Her step-sister said she was overwhelmed when she found out the good news. “When I found out I was crying from work,” David said, who is a nurse. “She’s the one that started it, we all shared it and it looked like it fell into the right hands.” Lawrence broke the news on Facebook with an emotional status that garnered 365 likes and 58 congratulatory comments and replies.
“Breaking news I'm officially a season seats holder thanks to the #Raptors organization truly blessed,” Lawrence posted on Facebook.
Visenberg said he was over the moon when he found out. “I had a huge smile on my face!” The writer said. “I thought it was the right thing to do. I was happy that the Raptors stepped up.”
The Air Canada Centre (ACC) is like a palace for Lawrence. She is always dressed head to toe in her finest matching Raptors gear. She is either draped in the typical red, white or black, or she switches between the Old and New School of the original 1995 Purple and Drake’s OVO branded black and gold. She has an outfit fit for a queen for at least every day of the week. And every home game she arrives about an hour before tip-off at Gate Five with the help of her chariot, the TTC Wheel Trans bus. Before making it to her throne in section 116A, an area for spacious wheelchair accessible seating in the corner of the ACC’s lower bowl, Lawrence likes to visit Raptors broadcast personalities Paul Jones and Sherman Hamilton on the set of the Raptors Pre and Post Game shows.
Her visits have been ongoing for a handful of years and the broadcast duo said they always make time to chat with her.
“I just remember that every time she came to the set I had to go find her and say hi,” Hamilton explained. “It was like a tradition. She says she’s my biggest fan so I’ve got to support my biggest fan!”
Jones said it’s easy for people to recognize how special Lawrence is to the Raptors. “There are some passionate fans out there but she’s out there in Super Fan status,” said Jones. “It’s great to see her passion because it’s so inspiring and uplifting.”
Many of the ACC staff are also touched by her passion.
“She makes me smile,” a lower bowl usher gushed. “She truly loves the team and it’s nice to have people like that. It’s because of that that a lot of staff know her… And fans too! A lot of fans will come to the section to see Monique. You’re probably the fifth or sixth person today that’s visited her,” the usher laughed. That evening’s match up against the Charlotte Hornets was only halfway through the third quarter at that point.
Besides a Raptors win the best part of the game for Lawrence happens after the final whistle.
She has been especially fortunate throughout this season to meet many players, coaches and their families.
“I’ve meet Cory Joseph, Amir Johnson, Anthony Bennett, Patrick Patterson, there’s so many,” Lawrence listed.
The left wall is an easy giveaway to figure out who Lawrence’s favourite current Raptor is. Without a doubt Cory Joseph has the most real estate. And Lawrence has pictures that date back to his college days with the University of Texas Longhorns.
“The day I met Cory they showed me so much respect and love,” Lawrence said with gratitude, pointing to a picture with Joseph after a game. “The emotion in my face said it all. He even signed my sweater too.”
She was also lucky enough to receive signed shoes from Patterson, which she gave as a gift to her nephew, and from Raptors sophomore Lucas Nogueira. But none of these moments hold a candle to the time she met her all-time favourite Raptors and current TSN analyst Morris Peterson. “I’ve been a fan of MoPete since his Michigan State days and when they won the championship with Tom Izzo,” Lawrence said matter-of-factly.
David usually accompanies her sister to games. She said that meeting Peterson was a “complete surprise” that was planned by NBA TV Canada producer and TSN radio host Duane Watson for a segment on the Fast Break show.
“They brought us into the hallway during halftime and were videotaping us as we’re walking,” David said. “Then MoPete came out of nowhere. Mo screamed so loud, I’ve never heard her like that. Everyone stopped. Then she started bawling.”
Lawrence chimed in: “I can’t thank Duane enough.”
She also met assistant coaches Jama Mahlalela, where she was quick to ask him about his newborn daughter, and Nick Nurse who said he looked forward to seeing the post of their picture on her Facebook page.
“It’s a really nice feeling for us to have someone care so deeply and genuinely for the team,” Nurse said. “It helps with what we do and how we bring joy to her life, to the city and to the fans.”
The expression “if you love what you do, you won’t work a day in your life” would fit Lawrence to a T if she had an opportunity to work for the team as an ambassador. Particularly, if she were to be an ambassador for fans with special needs.
“If that was presented to her I have no doubt that she’d succeed,” Hamilton said firmly. “I’d support her… In terms of fan base I think she could be very helpful to the organization if they’re able to find a role for her. I think it’s a win-win.”
Nurse also agrees. “I don’t see why not, I’ve never seen a fan like her.”
The success that Edmonton Oilers dressing room attendant Joey Moss has achieved since joining the team in 1984 is something to consider when imagining a role that Lawrence could excel in. Moss, who was born with Down Syndrome, has been rewarded with organization and fan support for his passionate attitude toward the team. The Oilers named a fundraising hockey tournament and an assisted-living home in his honour and he was inducted to the Alberta Sport’s Hall of Fame in 2015 are just a few examples of his influence. The positivity that’s been generated throughout Oiler Nation all started from a small gesture by then Captain Wayne Gretzky to get Moss involved.
While not everyone is suited for a role to work so closely with a professional sports team, the idea of Lawrence transferring her efforts into something bigger for the team seems to only show upside.
“Look at how much she brings people together!” Visenberg exclaimed like he was stating the obvious. “You can feel how much work she does, that’s what sticks out to me. The best kind of fan is someone who will ride with you through thick and thin.”
Lawrence said she is beyond confident in how she will continue to support her team in seasons to come. “I want people to understand that my disability won’t stop me,” the Super Fan expressed. “People told me that I couldn’t do anything in life. But here I am proving them wrong,” Lawrence added in true “We The North” attitude.
With Lawrence’s season of a lifetime nearly over, there is still a question of whether or not she will return next year as a season ticket holder. But with an attitude like hers anything is possible.